Legendary Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight's approach to winning ball games was quite simple. Former Hoosier Isaiah Thomas has described it as follows: "If you can control the style, and you can control the tempo, then your team's going to win. Period." Florida State's tilt at Florida figured to be an illustration of this maxim: the 'Noles want to speed the game up and run, whereas the Gators prefer a more tough-nosed style.
UF's desire to slow down the 'Noles was apparent early on, as they employed some press looks but refrained from trapping so as not to allow any easy looks for FSU. The Seminoles defended stoutly in the half-court game as well, holding the Gators to just .816 points per possession, while collecting 1.108 PPP for themselves in the first 20 minutes. The 'Noles spread the floor well and were able to get their talented players in space. What's more, they made UF pay for sinking back to protect against the drive: Florida State finally found its long-distance stroke, burying 45% of its three-point attempts (10-24), including Dwayne Bacon's 5-8 sniping, a very good sign, as he'd gone ice cold from beyond the arc.
Florida, on the other hand, struggled mightily on threes, making just 4-25 (16%). There's a downside, however, as the 'Noles were pushed around some inside. UF outscored the Seminoles 38-24 in the paint, and on two-point field goals (a much more reliable defensive metric than overall FGP), the Gators' 20-35 (57.1%) was far better than FSU's 16-39 (41%). A primary cause for this gap was the numerous chip shots that bounded of the rim for Florida State.
A lot of the disparity close-up was a result of the second half, when the Gators basically decided that things weren't going well with the tempo they'd pursued. So, they traded it in for a more chaotic approach, and it saw them scrap back into the game after trailing by 13 with 16 minutes remaining. Florida trapped in the backcourt, which facilitated a hectic style that got the 'Noles out of their comfort zone. How fast did the Gators go in the second stanza? They averaged just 13 seconds per possession, compared to 19 for the usually up-tempo Seminoles.
It was a big gamble that wound up looking like a brilliant move by first-year UF coach Mike White. His team looked to be on the verge of being blown out, and instead, they roared all the way back to tie it up with under a minute to play. The move effectively flipped those PPP figures: in the second half, UF was more efficient than Florida State by a 1.053-.842 margin. Free throws were a big reason why: Florida got to the line 29 times, compared to just 15 trips for FSU.
And, in fact, they could have very well sprinted by the tiring 'Noles, were it not for an even better coaching decision by FSU coach Leonard Hamilton to go zone with about eight minutes to play. This placed an onus on the Gator's poor three-point shooting as well as slowing down impressive UF freshman KeVaughn Allen, who torched the Seminoles for 32, a game and career high.
Not only was this a big victory for Florida State against a rival heading into ACC play, it showed yet another way that FSU is capable of winning. In the most hostile environment the 'Noles have experienced all year, they showed that they can jump on a team, and even after relinquishing that advantage, remain mentally tough and find themselves on the right side of the result.